Bivocational ministry not a stretch for those called to field
May 7, 2014
By SCOTT BARKLEY

“Being in a full-time pastorate can isolate you from the community,” he says. “When your job is part of that community, you get opportunities to support and pray for folks that aren’t as likely to come to your church. 

“You’re already there with them and it becomes a simple matter of building trust. They begin to see you not as just the preacher down at the church but as a colleague.”

A growing call

Matthew J. Hall, vice president for academic services at Southern Seminary says, “The guys who come to us with a desire to be bivocational usually grew up in those churches and see the need. They have a clear sense of answering that call.

“I do think there’s an upcoming renaissance of men seeking to be bivocational,” he says. “Southern Baptists can’t afford to forget about those churches.”

Kenneth Cloud, director for Bowen Baptist Association in southwest Georgia, says, “About 65 percent of my churches are bivocational.” 

“It’s becoming very difficult to find men who want to serve in them,” he says. “Search committees can’t fund full-time positions. They think it’s like they’re backing up by going with a bivocational pastor, but I tell them to not think of it that way. It’s regrouping.

“Our Baptist colleges need to have an emphasis on the platform of intentionally being bivocational,” Cloud says. For the record, degrees in business, nursing, criminal justice and education are among those offered at Brewton-Parker College, Shorter University, and Truett-McConnell University alongside studies such as world missions, Christian studies and religion and philosophy.

“It’s a different calling,” Cloud says. “I believe God has called people to serve these smaller areas, but they’re not answering the call. Who will go?”

Thompson had teachers and ministers who inspired him to pursue his calling. After high school he attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton to earn his associate’s degree in education. He would go on to attain his bachelor’s degree in that field through the University of Georgia.

“During my undergrad years at our campus BCM [Baptist Campus Ministry] I met a guy who was a youth pastor at a church who became a great friend of mine as well as mentor to me,” Thompson says. “For a while I felt I would be doing God a disservice if I was not strictly doing ‘church-ministry’ 100 percent of the time. He was able to help me better sense my calling and understand it was OK to desire to be a bivocational pastor.”

For the past four summers 

Thompson has worked with LifeWay Centrifuge camps. The experiences, particularly pointed questions about theology from students, convinced him of the need for theological education. In 2012 he worked as a youth leader alongside a bivocational pastor at “a small country church.” That pastor also helped influence Thompson’s decision to pursue bivocational ministry.

“In this guy I could see his heart for his congregation as well as his heart for the people that he worked with outside the church. It confirmed my desire to work with students in a church setting as well as in a real world environment such as a school classroom.”

What Thompson remembers about his own teachers that inspired him could serve as a ministry statement of his own.

“These individuals knew how to help students in all aspects of life.”

Scott Barkley works for The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared. 

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